Archaeology Weekend: 18-20 August 2023 Pilanesberg

The archaeology weekend was held at Pilanesberg National Park, at Lampies’ happy place, the beautiful Potokwane Camp, as our home base. 

As always, the weekend cannot start before the dreaded test on Friday evening is out of the way. This time around it was on arthropods and some of us were not sure if we were ready for this one – who would have guessed there is so much to know about “goggas” and “goetertjies”.

On Saturday morning we were all more relaxed with the test out of the way, and time spent on Friday evening relaxing around the fire sipping a couple of cold ones before bed.

At the Education Centre we were introduced to Moremi Keabetswe, the Manager of Pilanesberg National Park, who gave us a short and useful introduction to Setswana, the language used most commonly by the surrounding communities and the staff of the park. Learning the meaning of some traditional gestures, such as supporting the arm of the hand receiving a gift or object from another person to indicate how much the item is valued, was an eye-opener. As were the similarities and differences in the Zulu culture that Zamile shared with us.

We were then introduced to Francois Coetzee and Shaw Badenhorst who took us on an adventure back in time to some 3.5 million years ago to meet the earliest hominin in South Africa, Australopithecus africanus. We gradually travelled back in time through Saturday morning, working our way through the various stages, or is it “ages”, from the Early Stone Age (2 million years ago), Middle Stone Age, and Later Stone Age, to end up at Late Moloko, and our lunch break in August 2023. All 3.5 million years visited in a couple of hours! The fact that Africa has been proven to have been the “Cradle of Mankind” in the evolution and migration of Homo sapiens from mid Africa to Europe and Asia around 100 000 years ago was well described.

After lunch we drove to our first site visit. The Iron Age Site found close to Tilodi Dam, is one of about 120-150 Iron Age sites in the Pilanesberg area. The site is maintained by the Friends of Pilanesberg (FOPS) to be accessible to tourists and to provide some insight into the late Iron Age, specifically of the Sotho-Tswana people, who lived in the area.

Francois explained the layout of the site and shared some very interesting facts about the people who had lived at the site hundreds of years ago, such as who had stayed where, the location and the purpose of the sacred fireplace and the importance of the kraal as a central feature of the settlement.

The iron Age site – Pilanesberg national Park

Next up was a drive along the eastern fence line to the second site, Mabele a Podi, which was the capital “city” back in the day and the home of the first Chief Pilane. Unlike other iron age sites, this one was not burned down by the raiders of the Difequane-period. We are so privileged to traverse and see parts of the park that are not accessible to the public and we would never have seen or experienced this site if we were not participants in the Bushveld Mosaic course.

Pilanesberg being a Big-5 Park we had to be accompanied by a rifle team. And if anyone had any doubts about why we would need rifle back up, these were quickly dispelled when we found a lion track next to where we parked our vehicles.

Ja/nee!

We worked our way up the hill through some very dense ‘sekelbos’ encroachment which scratched exposed arms and legs, to the site of the Mabele a Podi settlement. From here we enjoyed stunning views of the park, fully understanding the reason for the location of the settlement. One can see potential danger approaching from miles away.

What an amazing view

As sunset crept onto us, we returned to camp where we enjoyed a well-deserved, heart-warming, and relaxing evening around the fire.

On Sunday morning most of us were up early to start the lectures at 07:30 sharp, but it seems that not everyone got the memo, and they strolled in 30 minutes later!

After an hour or so spent in the lecture room, we left for our next site visits. The first was on Dithabeneng Drive, close to the G-2 geological site. This site dates from the Early Moloko era where we found several artefacts, i.e., samples of pottery, stone tools, etc. There is no stonewalling at this site as this feature only emerged as it became necessary to demarcate and protect one’s territory in the later Moloko period.

History still on view

Next up we travelled to Motlhobo Drive, our last site visit for the weekend. This site is on top of the hill where cattle were kept overnight. The kraals were not visible from below, but the hill provides a 360 degree view which enables one to spot any approaching danger.

What do you think it was?

Excavations at a kraal site revealed a storage pit in the centre of the kraal, which was sealed off with a flat stone. This practice is not used by the Setswana and serves as proof that the kraals and settlement were probably founded by Nguni peoples, since the storage pits formed part of the Ndebele/ Nguni way of life. Human remains of a 20-30-year-old female were also found in the pit, which was unusual, as women did not stay around the kraals in the Sotho-Setswana culture. It is believed that the skeleton may have been that of a princess or royal figure.

And with that, another great weekend learning about our ancestral past, plus time with like-minded people out in the bush, came to an end.

Editors Note: Thanks so much to team Wetlands for this very comprehensive feedback from the Archaeology weekend.